In a Word...misery

One of the great conundrums of theology is ‘the problem of suffering’. It will always be with us

 

An outrageous friend – every home should have one! – remarked recently how “that bloody ‘Mata Hari’ (not her real name!) makes me sick!” She was referring to one of our better known celebrity survivor/victims.

The sort of person who is a publisher’s delight, author of best-seller books, subject of TV documentaries, innumerable broadcast and print interviews, with no pain, or threat thereof, going unpublished.

This trade in misery has become one of the more successful of our times. It has leeched into surprising domains such as mainstream entertainment where, to make impact, aspiring singers/musicians trade a sorry tale for attention.

There clearly is demand as even during lockdowns accompanying this pandemic, misery ruled the airwaves and best-seller lists.

In his poem Four Quarters TS Eliot tells us “human kind cannot bear very much reality”. He should be living at this hour. Had he been with us this past 16 months he would surely have revised that line.

With Covid raging all around demand for misery remained insatiable. Some even suggest that nowadays you are nobody unless you are a survivor/victim of some trauma. It has become such a crowded space as no life escapes, even as some lives are more miserable than others.

Why be surprised? Suffering is intrinsic to our human condition, regardless of class, gender, ethnic identity, sexual orientation, etc. So much so, one of the great conundrums of theology – that which attempts to explain the ways of God to (wo)men – is “the problem of suffering”. It will always be with us.

I do not feel as irritated by the overkill associated with ‘Mata Hari’ as does my friend, but I do believe this commercialisation of misery has devalued suffering to the detriment of truly awful cases where we might help.

Yes, books are sold, pages and airtime filled, but this is in response to our demand. If that disappeared so would the trade. Why is it there? Why this insatiable need to consume further misery in the middle of a pandemic? Does it make us feel better knowing that others are worse off? Or is it just entertainment?

Surely, instead, we should be looking into our own souls to cure this peculiar appetite rather than continue wallowing in what is the objectionably objectified pain of others.

Misery, from Latin miseria, for `wretchedness’.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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